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Sir George Gore Bt., English eccentric, indefatigable hunter

Posted in Animals, Historical articles, Oddities, Sport on Wednesday, 5 October 2011

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This edited article about America originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 832 published on 24 December 1977.

Bison, picture, image, illustration

Bison were virtually wiped out by the whiteman and the big game hunter, by  G W Backhouse

The big brass bedstead was the final touch, though the onlookers had plenty to admire about its owner. A genuine British baronet, complete with deer-stalker hat and Norfolk jacket, was a unique sight in the Wild West, and his carefully combed and perfumed ginger side-whiskers were an added attraction. As for his wagon train, it was the largest ever seen on the continent. Sir George Gore, Brighton-born and Oxford-educated, believed in doing things on a grand scale.

He had inherited his title – an Irish one – in 1842, when he was 31. Having hunted in Africa and Asia, he decided to try his luck in the West. Not for him an expedition that was merely big. Visitors to his camp on the town square of St Louis in the summer of 1854 noted, amongst other things and persons, a wagon full of firearms, including 75 large bore hunting rifles; Sir George’s green and white striped tent, plus carpet; the notorious brass bedstead, complete with canopy, a converted wagon for rainy weather; a carved marble washstand; a big bathtub: an iron table with solid silver drinking cups (though these only appeared for dinner): and a valet and a man whose main job was to tie flies to the baronet’s fishing rod.

To go with these marvels there were 40 professional guides, 112 horses, three cows, 18 oxen, 22 carts known as Red River carts, four six-mule wagons and two three-yoke wagons. There were also some 50 dogs, most of them greyhounds and staghounds. It will come as no surprise that Sir George later casually hired 1,000 Indians to build him a road to good fishing waters.

The mighty party set out. Passing through Leavensworth, Kansas, it was seen by a small boy who was to be no mean hunter himself one day, as well as a scout, Indian fighter and showman. His name was William Cody – later to become “Buffalo Bill.”

What happened next would be enough to give a modern conservationist apoplexy, and even at the time some considered that this ” ‘huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ ” aristocrat went too far. His methods were certainly larger-than-life, and he was no mean specimen, as a journalist noted, being “a fine-built, stout, light-haired and resolute-looking man.”

The army advanced slowly across the plains until it reached Wyoming, a land in which few white men had strayed far from the well-worn trail to the Far West. Sir George had brought along his own taxidermists and they were soon busy. He hunted deer with his dogs, he shot buffalo as they were driven by his men past a specially erected stand. As soon as one gun was empty he took another loaded gun from his bearers.

In Colorado, as it was to become, he heard of fabulous fishing to be had on the far side of some mountains and it was there that he hired a whole tribe of Indians to make him a road to the enchanted spot. Then it was time to hole up for the winter.

The place selected was Fort Laramie, Wyoming, where Sir George met the most famous living frontiersman, Jim Bridger, known as “Old Gabe”, Bridger had been the first white man to see the geysers in Yellowstone Park and other marvels, but he had never met a baronet. He had once met a knight, however, Sir William Drummond Stewart, who, without being quite as eccentric as Sir George, had his own strange ways: he had presented Old Gabe with a suit of full armour, which gave the Indians a shock when Bridger clambered into it and swaggered about the camp in it. Sir George gave him a new sensation, listening to Shakespeare, which his new employer read to him. The illiterate frontiersman liked what he heard and thanked Mr. Gore, as he called him. Such was Old Gabe’s memory that he soon had by heart great stretches of the plays he could not read.

But hunting was the main business and for his second season in the Wild West Sir George decided to build a fort in Indian country. Alas, a fellow countryman, Scottish-born Alexander Culbertson, who was working for an American fur company, objected to the fort and to Sir George’s habit – while not decimating the local wildlife – of trading with the Crow Indians. The unsporting Scot suggested to the Blood Indians that they pay Sir George a visit and a battle ensued when the Bloods tried to steal Gore’s horses.

Things started to go wrong from that time onwards, though they might have been worse, especially as some of his men found gold and Gore managed to persuade them it was a mineral called mica. Being rich, he wanted hunting, not gold. Yet even Sir George’s wealth was not unlimited. By the end of 1856 he had travelled nearly 10,000 kilometres in search of game and had spent almost the whole of three years’ income from his estates at home in Ireland. Perhaps it was time to go home . . .

His most spectacular moment followed. He decided he must sell his mammoth pile of equipment, brass bedstead included, and called on his former enemy, Alexander Culbertson, at his headquarters at Fort Union. He offered to sell the entire load to Culbertson for less than a third of its cost.

Culbertson realised that Sir George was eager to return home and tried to persuade him to drop his price even lower. The argument became more and more heated, ending abruptly when the baronet stormed out of the fort in a terrible rage. He marched back to his camp and, after assembling his men, ordered them to take all his wagons to the top of a high cliff overlooking the river.

While they were busy he gathered his collection of rifles and, with other retainers carrying stores and piles of equipment, he stalked to the Indian camp. He gave everything away, including enough food to feed the entire tribe for a year.

Still shaking with rage he then made his way to the top of the hill and set fire to everything in sight. Half a million dollars’ worth went up in flames.

All his trophies however, were safe and these he sent down by flatboats to St. Louis.

Years later, in 1875, he returned to America to shoot alligators and birds in the Florida swamps. He died in Scotland in 1878.

The West has always had mixed feelings about Gore. The State Historical Society of Colorado – where there is a Gore Range, a Gore Canyon and a Gore Pass – summed up those feelings in a bronze plaque:

Gore Pass

Altitude 9,000 feet

Here in 1855 crossed Sir George Gore an Irish Baronet bent on slaughter of game, and guided by Jim Bridger. For three years he scoured Colorado, Montana and Wyoming, accompanied usually by forty men, many carts, wagons, hounds and unexampled camp luxuries. More than 2,000 buffalo, 1,600 elk and deer, 100 bears were massacred for sport.

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